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Review of The Crucible at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

A few weeks ago I headed down to London to see this years graduating University of Northampton BA Actors perform Arthur Miller's classic The Crucible, and while it was generally spotlessly performed, as expected, the staging of it was tremendously dull, offering little stimulation beyond just the words being said. It made a classic, quite dull as a result. There was no such issue with The Actors Company production, staged in the atmospheric Underground space, and directed with such style and flair by Fay Lomas, to make Miller's play unrecognisable from that London version.

Based around the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts, Reverend Parris (a tough uncompromising performance from Steve While) comes across a group of girls dancing in the forest. When one of the girls, Betty (Laura Green), falls into a coma, events spiral out of control for many of the residents of the town, as accusations fly. Soon, Judge Danforth (Sue Whyte) is on the scene, and the lives of the residents a…

Review of Flashdance - The Musical at Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes

For the second week running, the Milton Keynes Theatre is overrun by a wave of eighties nostalgia as Selladoor's production of Flashdance The Musical follows hot on the heels of An Officer and a Gentlemen. However, is it nice to have more of that classic decade upon the stage? The answer mostly is yes, despite the fact that the story driving Flashdance is that light and flimsy at times, you just have to sit back and watch the dancing and the bright colours to get you through.

Welding genius, Alex Owens, has her sights set for a bigger thing beyond this tired and struggling factory in Pittsburgh.  Hoping to take her dancing beyond Harry's bar, she plans to make big, via Shipley Dance Academy.  Then, also drifting into her life comes Nick Hurley, who initially unknown to her, happens to be the factory bosses son, the scene is set for romance.

Flashdance has a generally excellent cast led with a tremendously good performance from Joanne Clifton as Alex Owens. Those familiar with …

Review of The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

During the interval of The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband, last weeks production at The Playhouse Theatre Northampton, I got involved in a conversation between a couple sitting next to me. The lady was very much of the opinion that the play was a comedy, while the gentleman, had formed one that it was a tragedy. They were joking of course in the conversation, but it did highlight the differences that Debbie Isitt's dark comedy might have between the sexes. And also now perhaps the passing of time. When this was written in the nineties, Isitt's play was a forthright feminist play, heralding the championing over of the ladies over the man. One the ex-wife plotting to cook him, the other, the new lover, potentially already very tired of him after just three years.

The husband, Kenneth (Jem Clack) elopes initially in pursuit of sex with Laura (Diane Wyman), after his nineteen years of marriage with Hilary (Corinna Leeder) has become tired and passionless. Then later, he elopes secr…

Review of Bugsy Malone (Clyde Company) at The Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Last night I was back at Royal & Derngate to see the Youth Theatre/Young Company production of Bugsy Malone, this time seeing the almost completely different cast of Clyde Company. This second evening of the show had the fortune of running much smoother, with less of the technical issues that had beset the previous evening and restricted the success of some of the scenes.

It was most apparent in the Fat Sam's Grand Slam scene, which became a greater hive of activity, with a full dance routine taking place, which unfortunately hadn't happened the previous night. Leading this scene was a full-on performance from Morgan Charles as Tullulah, exhibiting the vocal talent, and most especially the dance skills she had shown in last years Fame.

In the lead for this second company, and taking a much different approach to the role, was Nathan Stroud. Here we had a more mature Bugsy, not just in age, but in personality. The slightly more serious style worked excellently alongside a st…

Review of Bugsy Malone (Bonnie Company) at The Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The enduring favourite with youth theatre groups gets the Royal & Derngate Youth Theatre/Young Company treatment under the directorship of the Youth Theatre Manager, Ashley Elbourne, and between them, they do as much as they can with the show. With this, my second viewing of Bugsy Malone, it is becoming more apparent to me that the show itself is a little flimsy in some areas. It has a fabulous, single wacky premise (Splurge Guns and custard pie deaths), that doesn't have the strength for a whole show, especially when you discover that Paul Williams book isn't quite strong enough to keep the interest, and certainly not as strong as some of his music.

It helps though that the cast is clearly all having fun, much more than in a previous production youth production I saw a couple of years ago. Owen Howard as the lead continues to grow as a performer on the stage in his turn here as the lead. He has a confident stage presence and more especially, a charm which makes Mr Malone…

Review of An Officer And A Gentleman - The Musical at Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes

I had an advantage of coming to An Officer and a Gentleman unburdened by a knowledge of the film, having somehow inexplicably avoided seeing the iconic eighties Richard Gere and Debra Winger original. However, on the evidence of The Musical version, it's a heavy popcorn movie, with the emphasis on the corn(y) variety. Writers Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen have taken the original screenplay, and shoehorned, some more successfully than others, a bagful of eighties classics to create what just about amounts to a successful musical.

The story, such as it is, revolves around a bunch of US Navy recruits attempting to survive the pipeline and get their chance at the big flying game. Under the eye of Sgt Emil Foley (played with a heavily characterised approach by Ray Shell), a few survive the training, and also get up close and personal with the young ladies of Pensacola, Florida.

Leading the story are two romantic couples, Paula (Emma Williams) and Zack (Jonny Fines), an…

Review of A Servant To Two Masters by University of Northampton BA Actors at Jacksons Lane Theatre, Highgate, London

The third and final of the three plays presented by the third year University of Northampton BA Actors was wacky with a capital W interpretation of the already crazy Carlo Goldoni play A Servant to Two Masters. This play is very much more familiar to modern audiences in the guise of Richard Bean's extremely successful reworking One Man, Two Guvnors', but here Lee Hall's slightly more traditional set version is given a box of frogs working over by director Frank Wurzinger.

I have to be honest, this entire setup should have been so good, many of the cast had worked so well in other roles of similar style, outrageous comedy, playing to the audience, many were clearly so adept at this from their previous shows. So, why did A Servant To Masters fall down so badly?

I think, for me, one word sums it up, control. The craziness is not controlled, the cast appears to be often just having too much fun themselves, which doesn't translate the audience (well this one anyway). The c…

Review of The Crucible by University of Northampton BA Actors at Jacksons Lane Theatre, Highgate, London

There is no denying that Arthur Miller's The Crucible is a classic and well-regarded play and that in the hands of the always brilliant University of Northampton BA Actors, it should have been a thrill of innovation and epic theatre. So, why, when there was so much talent, did it become just an uninspired, by the numbers production?

I had only seen the play, formed around the 1690s Salem Witch Trials, once before in a vibrant school production that, while clearly long and drawn out (it's a heck of a long play in this, it's pure form), always remained entertaining, especially being performed by that young and enthusiastic cast. Here in this version directed by Nadia Papachronopoulou, it should have been so, so good, with the actor's talent, the potential for a dramatic stage version crackling with inspired moments was so overwhelming.

So why did with end up with just a static, curiously soulless affair? In principle it does nothing wrong, performances are strong, with …

Review of Titanic The Musical at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

As the onslaught of jukebox musicals continues to hold sway on the theatre world, it always nice and bold to run with a musical now with brand new music, and to add to this, a musical based around the death of over 1500 people seems like utter madness. However, Maury Yeston (music and lyrics) and Peter Stone's (book) Titanic the Musical has proven any doubters wrong with a vastly successful run in London in 2016, following its initial launch in 1997 on Broadway (it pre-dates that famous movie by a few months), and now the musical is on a UK national tour.

If you don't know the story of the Titanic, your education has failed you, however, it's safe to say that this doesn't end very well, and becomes one of the worst disasters in modern history. Stone creates from this disaster an often curiously entertaining piece, full of characters that are all interesting enough, but never so to overwhelm one another, as this is very much an ensemble piece. The only way you would ev…

Review of DNA by University of Northampton BA Actors at Jacksons Lane Theatre, Highgate, London

The final year performances of BA Actors this year upped sticks and headed away from their Northampton Royal territory and gathered to show their skills in London.

The first of the three shows being performed was Dennis Kelly's DNA, a play which I saw performed on the Royal stage itself four years ago. I enjoyed it for its dark mysterious nature and was looking forward to seeing a different interpretation of the show. It tells the tale of a group of youngsters who do something really bad, and proceed to attempt to cover it up, resulting in the real bad, well, getting more bad. It's dark yes, but also, very funny at times.

It opens with a looming movement piece of theatre, which I always love and this was no different for me, brooding and sinister. It's quite a long opening, which perhaps, in the end, becomes too long, but it's a fabulous piece of theatre for me. It set's the scene very well for Kelly's dark piece to unfold and in the hands of these, about to gr…

Flash Festival 2018: Persecuted by United-Force Theatre Company at Hazelrigg House, Northampton

It's perhaps a shame that the major talking point after United-Force Theatre Company's production of Persecuted is its final scene, and more so over the sheer realism of it, rather than anything directly related to the acting and writing of it. The shame is that it overshadows what is quite a brilliant piece of theatre in its own right, well constructed and superbly acted by the trio in the group, Alexander Forrester-Coles, Chris Tyler and Radostin Radev.

The date is 11th May 2005 and the Iraq War is no longer having the initial success that it had after destroying Sadam Hussain's regime. In a camp in Basra, Mohammed bin Osama bin Laden (Radostin Radev) is captured and under interrogation by commander James Farrell (Alexander Forrester-Coles), the good cop of the story, and Dan (Chris Tyler),  a Lieutenant, very much of the bad cop variety.

It's an ugly, but also a very vivid tale, claustrophobic and always intimidating. When the actors are not churning through the int…

Flash Festival 2018: An Error In The Melody by Carousel Theatre Company at Hazelrigg House, Northampton

At the centre of Carousel Theatre's An Error in the Melody is an intriguing character, performed by the groups solo performer, Amelia Renard. She plays, with some skill, Leonie Owens, a composer of immense skill herself, well, in her head in any case.

With shades of Glorious! The true story of Florence Foster Jenkins, which I have also seen this year, Owens just wants to perform and absorb the love of an audience, despite the fact that her skills mostly just lie within her head. Owens perhaps isn't anywhere near as nice a character as Foster Jenkins though, and when the tide turns against her, she really is quite nasty, and definitely very cold.

The dislike of the character though isn't the biggest problem with An Error in the Melody, it's more that it is a very insubstantial piece. Two very long scenes in this play are just so lightweight, the opening where she tidies her shelves, mostly with her back to the audience, and then later another scene similar in style. It…

Review of The Pillowman at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

The Pillowman sounds such a friendly title, and to be fair, his story is one of the lighter aspects of Martin McDonagh's script. It still involves dead children though, if you want to get a clear vision of how dark this play is.

Set in a police state of the future, Katurian (Toby Pugh) is taken in for the content of his often violent stories and a similarity to a spate of recent child killings. Here in detention cell 13, his police captors, Tupolski (Adrian Wyman) and Ariel (Steve While) play good cop, bad cop while holding over the threat of violence against Katurian's mentally disabled brother Michal (Patrick Morgan), being held in another cell.

The Pillowman is clearly a very warped story, with the blackest of black comedy, and often also very offensive with it's racial stereotyping and disability. In fact, it is no surprise that a couple left in the interval, as I would happily admit that this play is far from everyone. I like a good black comedy though, and lifting an …